Huskers take aim on Ames

Before the season started few would believe that the Nebraska/Iowa State game could set up like this. And when I say "like this" I mean Nebraska lost to Texas in Lincoln and Iowa State beat Texas in Austin. The transitive property applies somewhat to common opponents, but there are always the characteristics of each individual game; and there are a lot of things going on this Saturday in Ames.

Husker fans remember the Iowa State game from 2009. No, Husker fans can't forget the Iowa State game from 2009. That game too more turns than a street in San Francisco; every time the game would take a positive turn only to end in a turnover.

And there were a lot of turns.

The Huskers fumbled the ball seven times losing five. The Huskers also kicked in another three turnovers on interceptions. It's a wonder that Iowa State only put up nine points. It's another wonder that Nebraska was able to muster up seven points.

It was a game that Nebraska wishes they had back. It was a game that exemplifies what it means to "not show up" or "not execute". It's a game that you'd be surprised had the same result this year as it did the year before.

Surprised, but it's still possible. The Huskers have injuries heading into the Iowa State game. Iowa State area also an opponent that could do what you couldn't earlier in the season and that was beat Texas. This Saturday here are a few things I will be watching:

Key story lines:

1. Emotional let down? - It's definitely something to consider when it comes to this game. Just think about Missouri. Two weeks ago, ESPN Game Day was in Columbia and the word was that Columbia was jumping and Tiger players felt like "rock stars". Later that weekend, Missouri knocked off then #1 Oklahoma. The following weekend, a higher rated Missouri showed up in Lincoln as an underdog and got out every slow out of the gate. Was Missouri down or was Nebraska up? Either way, Huskers will have to continue us against the world, road dog mentality to win this Saturday.

2. Who will play quarterback? - As much as its been said that Taylor Martinez is healthy, I have my doubts. It wouldn't surprise me if Martinez were to start the game that he would actually be in the game for a very, very short time. More than that, I think that if Martinez does play that he will A) not be close to 100% leading plays to not yield what they once did AND/OR B) can't take too many hits so a backup needs to be ready, regardless. You then have to wonder if you will see Cody Green or Zac Lee and why Nebraska has put Lee into the game before Green the past two weeks if it's Green that we will see this week? Lots of questions here.

3. Staying sharp, mentally - There are a lot of reasons that the Huskers lost to the Cyclones last year. What definitely didn't help were the fumbles and the overall number of turnovers. The seven fumbles last season was almost unbearable to watch then knowing the Huskers lost five of those fumbles and added another three interceptions should have led Nebraska to losing by more than what they did, but a fabulous defense kept Nebraska in that game last year. The Huskers have another good defense this year, but have been in track meets for games of having to try and outscore opponents as much as try and stop them. It seems like though when the Huskers have not gotten out early or turned the ball over early, Texas and South Dakota State come to mind, that they have never really clicked the whole game.

Key matchups:

1. Martinez/Lee/Green - Even if Martinez is the quarterback this weekend the same type of mentality on the offensive side of the ball should exist if it were Lee or Green and that is "helping out the quarterback". Nebraska is either going to have less than a healthy Martinez or definitely less than Martinez playing this weekend at quarterback so Nebraska will have to supplement that. That means plays that keep up a quarterback's confidence, plays that lead to longer drives, potentially plays on special teams and ultimately depending on the overall run game. The quarterback is going to be looked at less as a player to make plays than as a player that is going to be required not to hurt the team this weekend. The Huskers will just need some consistency and let other parts of the team win the game.

2. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead - Helu had the hot hand last weekend touting the rock 28 times for 307 yards and three touchdowns while Burkhead had just two carries for four yards. Helu, in one week, essentially had one-quarter of as many rushing attempts as he has had all year. While Helu didn't leave the game with an injury, that we know of, it goes without saying that last weekend's effort had to have taken a lot out of him. For that reason, plus the need for the running game to be a big part of taking the pressure off of the quarterback position as a whole, that I think Burkhead will be big in the offensive game plan for Nebraska.

3. Austen Armaud v. Nebraska's D - Arnaud has looked impressive at times this year. I remember watching ISU the first weekend of the year against Northern Illinois and you could tell that ISU was well coaches and with Arnaud this team was "different". They are effective moving the football, mostly because of Arnaud, and the Nebraska defense are going to have their hand full. What does pop out to me on paper about ISU and Arnaud is how many times he has been sacked and the fact that he averages about an interception per game. Also, the 5.5 yards per completion average leads me to believe that a lot of what ISU wants to do is underneath and not challenging the field vertically. It's the vertical passing game where Nebraska has had break downs, particularly to the short thrown passes, and you might look for ISU to put in a few plays that particularly address this. The Huskers are going to have to get pressure, but keep contain. Arnaud is a better athlete than Blaine Gabbert or Garrett Gilbert so if he gets loose he could hurt Nebraska.

So what does it all come down to? To me, it's three things. The first is turnovers. Nebraska is going to have to be positive or at the very least not in the negative against Iowa State. On the road this year, the Huskers haven't been worse that even in the turnover category.

The second thing is that the Huskers need to get out to a quick start. Nebraska has done this pretty well on the road this season. The Huskers have really come out fast and scored quickly on the road. This really puts the home team on their heels and they come back and try to force things, typically, and Nebraska has been very good about taking advantage of that.

The third and last thing is to run the football. This is the part that could get tricky for Nebraska because you aren't sure if Taylor Martinez will be part of that equation. Regardless, Nebraska will lean heavily on Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead to not only score points, but also to move the chains to sustain drives and to also eat up clock.

Nebraska simply can't beat their selves again this weekend like they did last year. Iowa State, without Nebraska's mistakes, isn't good enough to beat Nebraska without Nebraska making mistakes. Well coached or not, Iowa State is going to need some breaks to exploit.

This year though, Nebraska seems to be a little more disciplined despite the Texas game results. The Huskers should be able to run the football with whoever is at the quarterback position. This year, the Huskers close out a series that Nebraska leads 85-17-2 and stretches back to 1896. Huskers win, 27-9.


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